Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Warframe: 2015 Review (PC)

A ninja-Jedi in a mech suit who fights space marines, robots and twisted alien infested?
Warframe has the sort of flashy, fun gameplay you'd expect from such a premise.  The "rule of cool" is very much the guiding design philosophy.

Slide and shoot.... 
(note a polearm, sniper rifle and a wrist laser are perfectly viable loadouts....)

What is it?
It's a 4-player co-op 3rd-person shooter/RPG where you team up with other "Tenno" (ninjas); slicing down hordes of foes in a combination of swordplay, parkour, and 'force' powers to complete a range of mission objectives.   Left for Dead in space, and with waaaay more customisation and cool toys. And you can fly around in space (and underwater) with winged jetpacks.  This is one of the most polished of the "free" games I've come across - it looks and plays like a AAA title.  It's faster paced than my usual style of game, but the over-the-shoulder camera, fluid and familiar controls and the co-op nature of gameplay make it easy to adapt to for us older gamers.

Deflect bullets like a Jedi....

....then slash apart your foes....

Is it really "free?"
It is one of the more benign of the "freemium" models.Whilst games like World of Tanks basically necessitates a monthly subscription to progress, and Mechwarrior blatantly appeals to rich "whales" with its "pay to win" vibe, Warframe can be played completely for free, by collecting and selling rare mods and weapon parts.  So yes, it is free.  That said, I recommend putting in a one-off $10, about a month in, which will set you up with enough warframe and weapons slots for a year.  A fair business model.

Will my computer run it?
A dual core, 2gig of RAM and a videocard of any sort. Basically, any computer less than 6-7 years old.  A very pretty game, well optimised with good 60fps framerate on my 5-year-old computer.

The view from the cockpit of your spaceship/home base is impressive...
Controls are the usual simple, familiar mouse+WASD shooter controls, with spacebar and Ctrl allowing a variety of parkour moves such as wall running, double jumps, and slides. You can shoot, slash and slide your way fluidly through levels, while casting space magic on your foes. The NPC AI is as dumb as dog poop, and "tougher foes" simply means more hitpoints to chew through - but no one cares. It's not that sort of game.  Casual. Accessible. Stylish. Not tactically complex. The depth comes in other areas.

Force Powers
Each frame has its own shield and hitpoint ratings, but most importantly each has four unique powers.  This could be things like casting lightning bolts, force shields, creating AoE whirlwinds, teleportation or flight. The warfame's array of powers give them all a distinct flavour.  I guess you could put them into RPG terms like "crowd control"  "healer"  "tank"  "dps"  "AoE"  "glass cannon" etc but given all share a common weapon pool, and you have to manually aim, slash and run like a FPS means the distinctions are a bit blurry.

...blast enemies with force powers....
Ranking Up & Mods
Weapons and warframes can "rank up" to level 30 and this happens pleasantly easily and quickly.  "Levelling" your frame/weapon is important as the level determines the sum of the "mods" you can place on it.

Weapon mods include damage boosts, elemental damage, faster attack speed - frame mods include shield and HP boosts as well as more efficient/improved use of force powers.  The mods can radically improve your frame as well as changing the focus of its playstyle, espescially with regard to your 'space magic' powers.

Min-maxing your frame is a fun quest, as you collect or trade mods, and decide how much to level them, in order to fit under the "cap" of your waframe level. I.e. a level 20 warframe can fit 20 "points" of mods, and a level 30 warframe can fit 30.  Capacity of your favourite frames can be doubled if you craft expensive "reactors" essentially expanding the maximum "cap" to 60.   If you end up with a surplus of rare mods, you can trade them for in-game currency to truly "play for free."  

In short - levelling weapons is easy and fun, and leads to deep customisation. The RPG-esque 'grind' lies elsewhere....

...Sometimes you stalk enemies....
Crafting - Weapons & Frames
There is a huge range of primary, secondary and melee weapons available all of which you can build from loot dropped by foes or by smashing open the ubiquitous crate.  Collecting the ingredients may be easy or hard, depending on the weapon and the rarity of materials it needs.  This is where the "grind" comes in.   If you have your heart set on a particular weapon, it can take ages of running particular types of mission to collect enough materials.  My 10c - don't "force" it - play casually, have fun with mates, and make stuff when you get the parts.  "Grinding" relentlessly to collect stuff - that way lies madness (or burnout). 

There is about 25 warframes, each with its own stats and its own unique four 'force' powers. Some warframes are easy to attain, some are exasperatingly difficult.  Most require repeating boss fights multiple times to collect all the parts. Some require you to complete quests.  Others require rare materials.

This is also where you need to spend really money to unlock "weapon slots" and "warframe slots" - though if you sell rare mods and gear on the player market you can play completely for free.  In addition, most items require real-world time to craft - 12-24 hours usually, with up to 72(!) for warframes.  This is another area where DE makes money as you can pay to "rush" the item and have instant gratification.

In short, making weapons and frames is where the exasperating grind comes in.  If you're a completionist who's "gotta collect them all" be prepared to spend a lot of game time grinding....

...other times, you just gotta flee!

Pets - Sentinels and Kubrows
Sentinels (drones that hover behind your shoulder) and Kubrow (alien attack dogs that roam around) are the "pets" which can assist you by doing things like collecting loot, cloaking you, performing AoE attacks, chasing down enemy targets, and simply providing extra firepower.  Kubrow are rather expensive to make and maintain and I don't really recommend them for newer players - Sentinels are cheaper and more user-friendly.

Archwing - by space and sea!
There are Gundam-style Archwing winged backpacks which allow you to fly in space or travel under water while wielding anime-esque swords and guns bigger than you are. This is a completely different game mode and while it adds welcome variety I found it to be less engaging than the usual game mode.

There's few problems in life that a well-aimed wrist laser can't fix...
To be honest this isn't great, though I admit I've only dabbled in it.  Whilst weapons are balanced separately for PvP there are constant complaints about unbalanced gear and the advantages of hosting the game.  Like Archwing mode, it adds a bit of variety if you are bored (it has unique mission types), but if you are looking for a dedicated PvP game look elsewhere, as Warframe shines best in its Left-for-Dead casual co-op with RPG elements niche.

The Bad
It's the two 'R's -  RNG and Repetition; and unsurprisingly one is linked to the other.
It's a great casual game, but easy to burn out on. I started a few years back, played it heavily, then quit for a year, in about this sequence:
"Heh, space ninjas - looks fun."
"Nice graphics - this is really good for a free game!"
"Wow - the mods is quite complicated - there's a lot of depth!"
"So many weapons and frames to try out and level up!"
<100 hours later>
"Must... grind... that... glowy rare ubersword"
"...damn RNG!  this is grindframe not Warframe!"

The Random Number Generator (RNG) means your chance of getting loot is totally random.  For example, a boss might drop one of three Warframe parts you need - the helmet, systems and chassis.  However there is no guarantee you will get them consecutively in three missions.  You might play a dozen missions and end up with 9 helmets, 3 systems and no chassis - and still be unable to craft the Warframe you want.  Each enemy loot drop is a random dice roll.  Which makes dedicated collecting or "farming" an item really exasperating as it is complete luck if/when you get the item you seek.  Hence the "repetition."

Repetition - well, quite often you will be replaying particular missions seeking a particular component/resource (thanks for nothing, RNG!) and whilst there is about 17 mission types having only 3 enemy races and a tendency to reuse ingame resources means things can start to get samey.
The game tries to mitigate repetition with random tilesets.  This means the maps are "jumbled up" every mission - you'll recognize the rooms but they'll be connected in different sequence. Like modular wargame terrain.   Whilst this is a good idea, it still won't take you long to see every room/location/graphic resource in the game a hundred times.  

Sliding into to dice up some twisted alien Infested

Planets & Missions & "Endgame"  Rant
Planets (of which there are about a dozen) are unlocked by defeating the boss at the previous planet.  Void missions (one-off missions that drop better/unique loot) can be tried if you find a Void Key on a normal mission. Each planet has 12-25 missions on it, of a range of mission types from assassinate, to sabotage, defence, to hacking and defending terminals and hostage rescue. The spy and rescue missions require sneaking and hacking security terminals to break in undetected for a change of pace compared to the usual frenetic slash-and-shoot combat.

MMO players always seem to seek a mythical "Endgame" where the game becomes somehow better and deeper and it a "payoff" for all your hard work once you're levelled up.  It's ridiculous.  The game itself should be fun.  If you are not enjoying yourself but keep playing in expectation it will somehow change and become "funner" and "pay off" all your "work" after 100 hours when you're all "levelled up"... that's just stupid.  

In Warframe it's very easy to level up your weapons and frames, though your mods take much longer to fully optimize.  The Void missions are tough (especially Tier 3/4) without friends, and the later planets (i.e. the tier 30+ ones) are tricky solo without levelled gear.  Better gear simply allows you to do more solo or contribute more to a team, and to progress further into harder missions.  So there is no mythical "endgame" (nor should there be) - you play the game cos you like it, not because you have to work for some mythical endgame where all the best content is kept.  If your game doesn't get good until the end, why bother with anything else?  If the endgame is cool, and the rest is an annoying, inferior, irrelevant timesink - why?

In short, there isn't really an "endgame" - nor should there be. 

 Stealth mode? After only rarely getting bugs, I got stuck in a wall twice the day before I wrote this review... 
It's still a Beta?
And it has been in beta since 2012! But honestly if you charge for a game, it's a product, not a test.  Beta is basically a cop out - an excuse for bugs. "But it's still in beta!" They say this with a straight face. If "beta" means "still in active development" then every MMO (or indeed every game receiving patches and updates) is in beta. But no one would claim World of Warcraft is in beta.  So no, Warframe has been out and charging money for 3 years - it is not a beta. 

So does it have bugs? Well, I've been stuck in a wall four times and under the floor three times - in a few hundred hours of play over two years - but they're the only "gamebreaking" issues I've had. I'd rate that as quite acceptable.   Also, the multiplayer has no dedicated servers and "host migration" - when the game swaps the hosting player mid-game - is quite annoying.  

+ Everything follows the "Rule of cool" - ninjas, robots, parkour, Jedi powers!
+ Fun, casual, accessible co-op - easy to pick up and play
+ Surprisingly deep customization/crafting
+ Very polished, great graphics - works on any computer
+ Good game for dad + sons/mums/daughters
+ Actually can be played for free unlike most "freemium" games

- Repetitious enemies and maps after a while
- Random loot drops = annoying when trying to get a particular weapon/frame/mod

Recommended:  Yes!  A casual but shiny co-op game of space ninjas that you can easily con the wife into playing, it is stylish slash-em-up fun that has unexpected depth in the crafting/modding aspect of the game.  Keep it casual, though, to avoid burnout.



  1. One question, how can you make Ordis stop talking? :-P

    1. There IS an option in audio settings - I haven't listened to Ordis in quite a while....